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Green Lantern: Ground And Pound Returns? Jets Had To Start Somewhere

Powell Breathes Life Into Running Game By Committee: Rex Must Not Deviate
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The Jets’ Bilal Powell, right, rushes against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on Nov. 18, 2012 in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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By Jeff Capellini, WFAN.com

NEW YORK (WFAN) — Nobody is saying the Jets will now save their season. But if they are really serious about trying to, what you saw Sunday was the blueprint.

The Jets, who are now 4-6 and still very much alive in the AFC playoff picture, got back to Rex Ryan family values during their 27-13 victory over St. Louis, dusting off the old cookbook and finding the recipe that made them extremely successful in both 2009 and 2010.

Run, run and then run some more.

It’s a very ugly way of playing, a style that completely flies in the face of how teams currently find success in what has become a pass-happy league. Yet it’s really the only way the Jets have a chance to put themselves in a position to win, when you consider who their quarterback is and the weapons he has outside.

And even though the Jets got back to basics Sunday, they really didn’t even do them all that well. They gained 124 yards on the ground, but all three of their running backs they featured averaged less than 4 yards per carry. However, as unattractive as that appears, it goes to show that running the football isn’t always about the big play or individual numbers that strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses and make fantasy football fans drool.

Sometimes you just have to run for the sake of running, take your yards where you can and pray it all leads to some kind of offensive balance in the grand scheme of things.

Which is exactly what that philosophy did Sunday.

As I said, the Jets gained 124 yards on the ground, but did so on 41 carries. That’s roughly 3 yards per carry, which is hardly dominant, but it led to 33 minutes of possession and allowed for Mark Sanchez to have a little more time to do some things. Sanchez was very efficient, completing 15 of 20 passes for 178 yards and a TD. More importantly, the beleaguered signal-caller didn’t turn the ball over and for the first time in a long while looked somewhat comfortable in the pocket. His throws had some zip and he spread them around to nine different receivers.

That’s Sanchez football. To ask him to do anything more than that is asking for problems. It’s game-managing at its finest, which, considering what the Jets’ running game hopes to be and their defense has the potentially to be on a weekly basis, is Sanchez basically being all that he currently can be.

The Jets, well, specifically general manager Mike Tannenbaum, have been killed since the offseason for not beefing up their backfield. Conventional wisdom suggested that if they wanted to be a dominant running team they needed to do something to offset the loss of LaDainian Tomlinson and give Shonn Greene a 1A-type of assistant. They did neither, acquiring no one while some pretty decent names — Cedric Benson, Michael Bush and Justin Forsett come immediately to mind — sat around as free as free agents could be for months.

That led to many wondering what Tannenbaum was thinking, a thought process that still exists across the entire roster. For whatever reason, be them salary cap-related, youth movement-oriented or something not currently out in the open to be analyzed, the Jets put all of their faith in Greene, a player who is more of a closer than a focal point.

Greene can handle 20 carries a game, but the 18 he got on Sunday were his most since the 32 (and career-high 161 yards and 3 TDs) he posted against Indianapolis back on Oct. 14. Since that game, he’s had 64 carries, but over four games. The Jets have been trying desperately to find someone to be his complement.

Maybe all the while his 1A and 1B were on the roster, but either were physically not ready or were not given an adequate opportunity.

I’m speaking specifically of Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight, players who clearly have potential to be much more than maybe even the Jets envision.

Powell, a second-year back out of Louisville, gained just 21 yards in parts of two games as a rookie, and was largely thought of as just being another Jets draft afterthought this past offseason.

But Powell, when healthy, has quietly worked his way into the rotation, with Sunday’s two-touchdown performance perhaps being the sign that may give this franchise no choice but to show some faith.

Powell is not overly gifted, but he does accelerate through holes as evidenced by his 5-yard TD run on Sunday, when he dragged a few Rams into the end zone. Later, he iced the game on an 11-yard scamper that showed shifty feet and some field vision Greene doesn’t appear to have.

Greene has always been the wrecking ball. Give him a hole and he’ll get through it, but he’s a poor open field runner, with very few, if any, moves in his arsenal. He’s more inclined to just put his head down and try to blast through whomever, but he does that when there appears to be just one man to beat as often as he does it at the line of scrimmage. Powell, though we obviously have a very small sample to assess, seems more like a running back suited for today’s NFL, a player who may have the potential to break away and make people miss.

Needless to say, if the Jets have any hope going forward, they are going to have to show some conviction and stick with both of these guys, and mix in more of McKnight, a player that for whatever reason they simply don’t show a lot of faith in. McKnight may be the most gifted of the three, but his touches are severely limited, a decision that often leaves me scratching my head and many fans saying what is this coaching staff thinking?

Look at it this way: McKnight is averaging 6 yards per carry this season, but has just 21 rushes. He’s proving to be an excellent kick returner, something that requires you make people miss in space, but has just one reception out of the backfield, a situation that often, you guessed it, gives a running back the chance to do something in an open field.

The Jets really need to figure out how to use McKnight properly, because if they don’t they are just wasting a valuable resource.

With the Jets now embarking on a short week in preparation for the Thanksgiving rematch with New England at home, a game that if won could change the entire landscape for the 2012 season, despite their sub-.500 record, they really have to avoid trying to outsmart themselves. St. Louis may not have been the ultimate litmus test for this offense, but it appears the Jets now know what they need to be to try to make a run. The AFC is a mess, so any team that gets hot right now will find itself in the playoffs. And at 4-6 the Jets are not dead, but they really have no margin for error.

So why take a chance on doing anything but what’s currently working? The Jets must run the ball against the Patriots, use all three of their backs, keep Tom Brady off the field and allow Sanchez to manage things under less stress.

It’s basically the same formula from a few years ago all over again. It’s a proven formula. The question is, do the Jets believe in themselves enough to stick to it?

Your guess, as usual, is as good as mine.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini and follow him on Twitter at @GreenLanternJet

Do you think Powell is the answer at running back? Are you feeling a little better about the Jets’ chances the rest of the way? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …